The True Business of Empowerment
By Lauren Sweeney
The word “empowerment” has been getting a lot of air time lately. It’s become an easy term to get behind. But, if you ask me, it’s lost some of its luster recently. It’s easy to say you support empowerment without having to step up and do something differently.
As a CEO of a branding and marketing firm, I’ve seen empowerment work at all levels. I believe in it. I’ve even benefited from it, personally. And I would guess many other female executives would say the same. So why is such a great concept, that many people believe in, not making the impact that it could?
I decided to assess this challenge like I would a client coming to me with a struggling brand. Here is the outline of my notes to my client, “Empowerment”:
Brand Challenge: Continue to get people on board, but drive more action. Make it more about empowering people. Make it resonate with people on a personal level, in a way that makes them change behavior.
How to Accomplish: Get to the heart of the matter. Show how empowerment can benefit leaders, in the most impactful way possible.
Recommended Positioning: Empowerment = invest in your people so you can confidently release power and seize success.
The idea of pouring into those around you by providing support and being collaborative makes sense and is hard to argue against. However, let’s be honest with ourselves: we invest in our people, but we don’t follow through on releasing power.
Here’s an example: a female leader is on the right track to empowering her people. She sets up mentorships, so they can learn to be empowered. She emails around articles, so they can read about being empowered. She speaks on panels, so they can hear about being empowered. But, this leader falls short of the truly impactful move: she continues to hold control. And by keeping control, her employees won’t believe in themselves or take chances.
And THAT is the key to empowerment: Making your people believe in themselves enough to take chances.
So, how can we as female leaders empower our teams and those around us? Well, some of that depends on where we sit in an organization. But no matter the level, we can all play an active role in making empowerment impactful:
Behavior: Be kind to everyone. Ask questions. Listen. Talk up your teammates. Always use “we” when presenting. Encourage others’ ideas.
Result: You’ll be seen as a team player that has confidence. Since you are a team player and you support your peers, no one will fear or resent your confidence. (But rest assured that kindness, confidence, and ambition are the qualities that will skyrocket you to the top.)
Behavior: Be kind to everyone. Ask questions. Listen. Invest in your team. Give them opportunities to take on new and challenging assignments. Your team will be more motivated to accomplish the goals you set if you are helping them achieve the goals they set. And don’t forget to recognize and reward those who take chances and succeed!
Result: You’ll be sought out by people below you and counted on by people above you. Before you know it, you’ll have more responsibility and a new position.
Behavior: Be kind to everyone. Ask questions. Listen. Communicate a clear vision for the company, and live it yourself. Check in regularly with your teams to make sure decision-making is happening on the lowest possible levels. Make sure you practice what you preach: give your management team the opportunity to step out and take chances with new ideas, new projects, and new responsibilities.
Result: Your people will like coming to work. They will work hard to accomplish your goals. Success will be yours and your teams.
The true business of empowerment will help us, our teams, and our organizations achieve amazing things. But to achieve these great outcomes, we must do more than talk about empowerment; we need to enable empowerment by letting those around us have the opportunity to take control!
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